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Can Telehealth Help Healthcare Providers Tackle Rural Health Disparities?

By April 23, 2021No Comments

Federal officials are awarding almost $13 million to dozens of organizations across 35 states to create rural health partnerships that use telehealth and other strategies to take on rural health disparities.

By Eric Wicklund


– Federal officials have awarded almost $13 million in funding to help healthcare providers use telehealth and other services to address rural health disparities.

Some 61 organizations across 35 states will share the funding from the Health and Human Services Department’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through its community-based Rural Health Care Services Outreach Program. The program “expands and improves health services for rural residents by supporting innovative and evidence-based approaches tailored to the specific needs of local communities.”

The program’s goal is to improve access to care and clinical outcomes by targeting barriers to access in rural communities that drive down health outcomes. That might include lack of social services, economic status, community infrastructure (such as broadband access), access to specialty services and even cultural concerns.

“HRSA is dedicated to supporting community-focused approaches to improve health care in rural and underserved areas,” Acting HRSA Administrator Diana Espinosa said in a press release. “Through strong partnerships with local organizations, the Outreach Program will improve the health of the nation’s underserved and vulnerable rural populations and expand access to comprehensive, culturally competent, quality primary health care services.”

Connected health tools and platforms are proving popular and effective in addressing rural health outcomes, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Through these channels, healthcare providers can reach out into underserved populations with targeted messaging and improved access to care and other services, addressing barriers that drive down health outcomes.

Examples include mHealth messages that address chronic care management, health centers and clinics that use telehealth to connect with social and specialty services, and mHealth apps and devices that enable people to better manage their health and wellness.

The program is split into two phases. In the first, the HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy is issuing $8.98 million to 45 organizations to collaborate with local healthcare and social service groups to improve care for underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged rural residents. Those services will include telehealth, chronic disease management and prevention, care coordination, dental and behavioral healthcare services and other services that target the social determinants of health.

The second phase is new, and focuses on the HRSA’s Healthy Rural Hometown Initiative (HRHI) which aims to take on underlying factors that drive the five most common causes of avoidable death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. Some 16 groups will share $3.79 million to take on those issues.